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Sunday, 09 February 2014 20:12

'Mamma Mia', that'sa one spicy meatball! Quick, the Alka Seltzer!

Written by Steve Callahan
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The Details

  • Director: Phyllida Lloyd
  • Dates: February 7 - 9, 2014
'Mamma Mia', that'sa one spicy meatball!   Quick, the Alka Seltzer!
fabulousfox.com / Kevin Thomas Garcia

Nine years ago I fell in love with an adorable musical when it came to the Fox.  It was "Mamma Mia!" and I loved it not just because of its engaging and imaginative music, but because the story was a lovely old-fashioned romantic situation-comedy, simply and economically told with sensitivity and moderation.  Well, that old flame is back in town, and God, how she's changed.  Nine years ago I left the Fox full of warmth, with just the gentlest sweet hint of heartache.  This time it was more like heart-burn:  "Mamma Mia!", that'sa one spicy meatball!   Quick, the Alka Seltzer!

The story is set on a tiny Greek island where Donna, a single mother who runs a taverna, is preparing for the wedding of her daughter, Sophie.  Romantic Sophie would love to have her father give her away, but no one—not even Donna—knows which of her three long-ago lovers the father might be.   But they’re all coming to the wedding!

The music is from the Swedish pop-rock group ABBA, and it's rich and varied, running from rock to disco to the quite uncategorizable.  Well, the music now is the same as in that old production I loved, but this production is so different.  It is so vastly overproduced, so drenched in high-tech glitz that it's totally unrecognizable.  We are told that the setting is a small taverna on a romantic little Greek island.  But Director Phyllida Lloyd and production designer Mark Thompson have so little respect for this story that they let their lighting designer run amok, transforming this quiet place into a veritable Las Vegas of flashing lights, strobes, great wafts of fog, and sudden and quite arbitrary shifts of lighting to intense red or purple or blue.  The vast Fox proscenium is narrowed by faux curtains (what we used to call "tormentors") of vivid aquamarine and blue.  The cyclorama is irregularly striated with these bold colors.  The result is to draw the audience's eye up and out—away from what we should be looking at:  the actors.

It is clear that the producers are quite proud of the desecration they have wrought on this lovely innocent show.  The information sheet commonly given to reviewers is full of bragging about how many thousand sequins, how many thousand rhinestones, how many yards of spandex, how many thousand glo-sticks, how many computers, dimmers, color scrollers and vari*lights are used in the production.  They clearly are convinced that what American theatre-goers really want is just sensory overload.

There are also embarrassing bits of physical humor.  It's as if the director was set on turning this lovely, sweet story into a really dumb slightly-dirty joke.  Too often the actors busy strenuously laughing at their own asinine jokes.

Costumes are totally unimaginative and without any sense of color coordination.  The quite large cast of young people are dressed exactly as if they were dancing in a St. Louis disco—everybody in jeans.  (Or in quite ugly scuba togs).  This story and this setting demand at least a few skirts.

There is one quite funny number—when all the young men do what I might call a "flap-dance" wearing scuba suits and swimming fins.

But overall the new "Mamma Mia!" which played last week-end at the Fox was a real disappointment.  I left angry.  The producers have made this lovely show coarse, commercial and vulgar.   I'll cling to my memory of that show nine years ago.

Additional Info

  • Director: Phyllida Lloyd
  • Dates: February 7 - 9, 2014

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